Whining today, healthy smiles for a lifetime

by Airman 1st Class Danielle R. Andersen
86th Dental Squadron

Every day of every year it is important to make sure children and their parents work together to develop healthy dental habits. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and here at the Ramstein Dental Clinic, the 86th Dental Squadron sets aside extra time to educate children and their parents about developing positive dental habits.

Whether your children see our presentations in their schools or you see us at your child’s next appointment, you can be sure that you are getting top notch tips and advice from our top notch staff.

As dental staff, one of the most common things we hear from parents is, “I tell them to brush, and they tell me they do.” Our next question is, “Have you checked?” As a prerequisite to being an adult, you had to first, be a child. Think back to when you were a child. I can almost guarantee that if someone was not watching over your shoulder at the bathroom sink, you were rushing through your morning or bedtime brushing, and skimping out on one of the most important parts of your day.

We all love to give our children the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps your children are brushing when they say they have, but are they doing it properly? Are they brushing them long enough? Here are some helpful tips to make sure your children are getting the most out of every brush.

We’ll start with the basics. We recommend bringing your child in for checkups and cleanings at least once a year. If they already have a history of dental problems, we recommend twice a year checkups. In addition to the professional care they receive with us, brushing at least twice, if not three times a day to remove plaque is the most important part in developing excellent oral hygiene habits.

In the morning after they wake up and before they go to sleep at night are the best times. Some schools also allow or require ‘toothbrush time’ after lunch at school which is also great. Vigorous brushing is not necessary and can actually damage the enamel on your child’s teeth and gums.

It is important to teach your child to angle the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle and move the bristles in small, soft, circular motions on all surfaces of the teeth. The tongue side, the chewing surface, and the smile side are all must brush areas, but in addition make sure you don’t forget their tongues and gums, which can be the areas where most of the ‘bad breath bugs’ like to hide.

Remember, just brushing isn’t enough. Flossing daily keeps the surfaces between teeth free of debris and bacteria that come from the food they eat. Failure to remove the plaque is what leads to cavities, which can eventually leave your child in pain, and result in a visit to the dental clinic to get the ‘sick teeth’ fixed. If left untreated and unfixable, it could even result in surgical removal of the decayed tooth.

Believe it or not, children do not have the dexterity to brush their own teeth properly until they are about 10 years old. This is why it is important to follow up. Try not to make a habit of doing it for them. Give your child time to play with the tooth brush, get familiar and learn on their own, then feel free to check, and go behind to get the spots they may have missed.

Diet control plays a huge role in healthy smiles. Most children can’t get enough of the candy, juice and soda diet, if you allow it to happen. As parents it is our responsibility to take charge and keep these sugary sweets as treats, not daily occurrences.

The sugars from these substances will sit on teeth all day if you let them. A very common error is the juice crutch. As dental professionals, we often see parents and children alike become dependent on juice for bedtimes, crabby times, and snack times. Even if the label on the bottle says one hundred percent juice, the natural sugars present can still cause a significant amount of damage to their million dollars smiles.

For crabby time and snack time, we encourage parents to mix a small amount of juice with a larger amount of water to reduce the concentration of sugar and following up with a small glass of water to rinse the sugars off the teeth is also an added bonus. Bedtime sugary drinks are the most common mistake that comes with the highest price.

If you and your child are already accustomed and dependent on this habit, stop now. It is going to be hard, but weaning your child off of bedtime juice by adding water and eventually giving only water is the best step towards breaking the habit.

The only thing safe to give your child before bed is water. If they fall asleep after drinking sugary drinks, the natural or artificial sugars sit on their teeth all night while they sleep, allowing all of those little ‘sugar bugs’ to ‘crawl around’ and do their damage. If your child has no teeth, two teeth, or a whole mouth full of teeth, the potential for damage is just the same on the teeth you can see as those that are not yet exposed.We as dental professionals and many of us as parents know that your children are the most important part of your lives.

Kids are made to be kids. You can wash away mud on their faces and paint off of their fingers, but you can never wash away the years of neglect and the damage it has done to your child’s teeth. Knowing that you are playing your part in making sure your child has healthy teeth that will last a lifetime is something that is not only irreplaceable, but also something that they will thank you for as adults.

The smiles you see every day will give you piece of mind knowing that you stepped up and fought through the bedtime whines and the before work battles, and that all of that was worth it. Not only because but you were in control and played your role as a parent of a child with healthy teeth, but because that smile running in your direction, is going to last a lifetime.